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Kumamoto ready to stake claim on upcoming B2 season

by Ed Odeven

A week before the B. League’s top flight gets underway, the second division opens its 2018-19 campaign on Sept. 28.

The promoted Hachioji Bee Trains play host to the Earthfriends Tokyo Z and the Ehime Orange Vikings face the visiting Hiroshima Dragonflies in the evening’s two lid-lifters.

A day later, all 18 B2 clubs are in action.

After steamrolling the competition in the second division last season, the Akita Northern Happinets (54-6) and Rizing Zephyr Fukuoka, who beat them in the playoff finals, were promoted to B1. Fukuoka was a powerful force a year ago, too, winning 47 of 60 contests before a successful run in the postseason under bench boss Ryuji Kawai.

The Iwate Big Bulls were demoted to B3 after a 7-53 campaign.

After enduring disappointing 2017-18 seasons, the Nishinomiya Storks (12-48) and Shimane Susanoo Magic (11-29) failed to keep their spots in B1 during the playoff-relegation competition in May. They’ll now occupy spots in the B2’s revamped Central and West Divisions.

Parity was a chief trait of the second tier this past season with nine clubs finishing with winning records, including the Kumamoto Volters (41-19), Fighting Eagles Nagoya (39-21), Fukushima Firebonds and Ibaraki Robots (both at 38-22), Hiroshima Dragonflies and Ehime Orange Vikings (with identical 33-27 records) and Gunma Crane Thunders (32-28).

Hachioji, guided by well-traveled head coach Takatoshi “Big Bashi” Ishibashi went 51-11 in the B3’s three stages in 2017-18 to earn promotion. The Bee Trains raised the stakes over the summer by adding explosive scorer Le’Bryan Nash, a former bj-league All-Star Game MVP.

In a notable offseason move, Chehales Tapscott left Ehime and joined Kumamoto. The Portland State alum led B2 with 22.1 points per game last season. He also claimed the second-flight scoring crown in the league’s inaugural campaign (19.5).

Tapscott bolsters a quality lineup which already features Josh Duinker, who was No. 5 in scoring (17.7) and second in rebounds (10.0) a season ago, and premier playmaker Takumi Furuno, who led the division with 7.1 assists.

To recap, the winningest remaining team in B2 now has another premier scorer. It certainly makes the Volters one of the favorites to contend for the B2 title and a shot at promotion to the top flight. What’s more, coach Takayuki Yasuda’s team went 44-16 two seasons ago.

With a victory over Ehime in the B. League Early Cup Nishinihon final on Sept. 9, Kumamoto took the first step in the right direction, according to veteran swingman Daiki Terashita.

“It was good to achieve,” Terashita tweeted the next day. “The next goal is to win two openers. That way you can complete the mission one at a time, and you’ll be able to accomplish something big at the end.”

Of course we’ll have to see how the long season shakes out.

Could there be a team that, more or less, runs the table like Akita? Or isnearly as consistent, like Fukuoka?

Gunma boasts a veteran nucleus with Fumiya Sato, Hirotaka Kondo and Thomas Kennedy, among others, and shouldn’t surprise folks if they elevate their game. And based on past success, the same could be said for Nagoya, Fukushima, Ibaraki and Ehime, especially the first two. (And Kagawa and Shinshu boost dynamic leaders in Reggie Warren and Anthony McHenry, respectively.)

Since the get-go, the B. League has established quality competition in the second division, and former U.S. and Japan collegiate stars as well as pros from several other countries have made immense contributions in making sure B2 isn’t a huge drop-off from the top flight.

The Terrific 12 update

In the ongoing tournament of top Asian teams in Macau, B. League squads experienced mixed results on Tuesday, the opening day of action.

Led by Markeith Cummings’ 30 points and 19 rebounds and Craig Brackins 28 and 10, the Nagoya Diamond Dolphins defeated Taiwan’s Yulon Luxgen Dinos 84-72.

The Guangzhou Green Lions of China held off the Chiba Jets Funabashi 92-83. The Jets trailed 83-79 late after a Michael Parker inside bucket. Parker paced his team with 24 points.

The Ryukyu Golden Kings, meanwhile, cruised past the Philippines’ iECO Green Warriors, an All-Star squad, winning 103-75. The Kings led 56-24 at halftime. Josh Scott (17 points, seven rebounds), Jeff Ayres (12 points, 14 boards) and Takatoshi Furukawa (15 points) helped set the tone for Ryukyu, while Yutaro Suda added 14 points, Ryoma Hashimoto had 13 and Narito Namizato dished out six assists.

On Wednesday, Ryukyu defeated the Xinjiang Flying Tigers 74-59.

The Diamond Dolphins and Jets were back on the court Thursday. In the early game, Nagoya topped the Zhejiang Guangsha Lions 79-71, with Cummings scoring 23 points and Shuto Ando 12, to advance to a Saturday semifinal against Ryukyu.

Chiba, meanwhile, fell to the Hyundai Mobis Phoebus 77-71.

The tourney also features squads from China, South Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines.

The event concludes on Sunday.

Veteran presence

Well-traveled forward Gyno Pomare is back with Shimane, the club announced last Friday.

Pomare began his pro career with the Sendai 89ers in 2009. After competing in the Argentine League, Pomare returned to the bj-league in 2011 with the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix. He’s moved around Japan in the years that followed, including stops with the Kyoto Hannaryz (2012-13), Iwate (2013-14), Aomori Wat’s (2014-15), Kanazawa Samuraiz (2015-17), Osaka Evessa (2017-18) and Iwate from January to February before ending the season with Shimane.

The 203-cm veteran played college ball at the University of San Diego. At the time of his departure in 2009, Pomare was the Toreros’ all-time leading scorer (1,725 points).

In a 2015 interview with The Japan Times, Pomare analyzed his presence on the court.

“I think there’s a misconception that I don’t work hard, that I’m a laid-back guy,” Pomare said. “I do talk a lot on the court, but I’m not rah-rah, scream and yell. I do work hard. But I do work hard in practice and I work hard in the offseason to stay in shape. I’m just a laid-back guy who plays really hard and rebounds the ball well and is willing to work hard in transition to get the bucket.”

New challenge

Veteran center Hilton Armstrong, a former University of Connecticut and NBA player, recently joined Bnei Herzliya of the Israeli Premier League after stints with Ryukyu last season and Chiba in 2017-18.

Opening weekend

In addition to the aforementioned two series, here’s the rest of the B2 season-opening matchups, starting on Saturday: Kanazawa vs. Shinshu, Gunma vs. Yamagata, Aomori vs. Nagoya, Nara vs. Kagawa, Ibaraki vs. Nishinomiya, Fukushima vs. Sendai and Kumamoto vs. Shimane.

Feedback

Contact the reporter: edward.odeven@japantimes.co.jp